Footscray dominated their final VFA years, finishing atop the ladder each season. In 1920, his last season, Johnny Craddock, whose deeds inspired the term ‘bulldog tenacity’, led his side to premiership glory. Dr Roy Park, Footscray’s elusive forward, kicked 4 goals in the last quarter of a remarkable come-from-behind victory.
When a hailstorm caused the abandonment of the 1921 final Footscray, despite losing the replay, had the right of challenge – but Williamstown proved too good in the grand final. Local businessman George Sayer became president in 1922, immediately wielding great influence. Collingwood’s Con McCarthy was lured, at much expense, as captain/coach in 1922. Champion Geelong rover Alex Eason also joined. Footscray dominated the season but fell 2 points short in a spiteful grand final, won by Port Melbourne – avenging that defeat by beating Port in the 1923 grand final. Seventeen-year-old Allan Hopkins, a future star, kicked 7 goals on debut against Prahran in 1923.
In 1924, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba suggested a charity match between the winners of the VFA (Footscray) and VFL (Essendon) premierships. In that ‘Championship of Victoria’ match, Footscray humiliated their VFL counterparts winning 9-10 (64) to 4-12 (36). It was a red-letter day for the football club and the city, further strengthening the club’s claim for VFL inclusion. In January 1925, the VFL announced that Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne were to be admitted to the League. Footscray, by virtue of their outstanding performances and behind the scenes campaigning, led by town clerk, John Gent, was at last regarded as one of the twelve most important Melbourne suburbs.
Footscray’s record in the VFA had been exceptional. Over 39 years (1886–1924), the ‘Tricolours’ won nine premierships, were runners-up five times and won 394 games out of the 680 played, drawing 24 and losing 260, with two abandoned games. The club’s record at the Western Reserve was even more impressive, winning 218 matches of 302 played, including a winning streak of their last 48 VFA home games.
Footscray would not easily embark on their VFL journey in 1925. They had caused a stir among VFL clubs during their VFA days with the lavish recruitment of League stars. The VFL banned not only their famous flick pass, that had destroyed Essendon in the ‘Championship of Victoria’ game, but also three of their champions (Norman Ford, Alex Eason and Jack O’Brien), for contravening clearance rules during the VFA years.
In 1925, led by captain/coach, Con McCarthy, Footscray lost to Fitzroy by 9 points in their first VFL game but, at home, the following week, scored their first VFL win, against South Melbourne. Footscray achieved four wins in that first season, a highlight being Allan Hopkins’ 9 goals against Hawthorn. In 1928, Alby Morrison kicked 50 goals in his debut season and Footscray played nine games in which the margin was 4 points or less. Highlights were few and far between as all three of the new VFL clubs struggled to establish themselves, languishing near the bottom of the ladder for the remainder of the decade but Allan Hopkins would be equal runner-up in the 1929 Brownlow Medal.